“I’ve been feeling unconfident for this many years. I’ve always questioned my English reading ability. But after continuing to read Trump’s tweets, finally my self-confidence has returned, and I have discovered my vocabulary is actually very large!” – Viral post in China’s WeChat social app says, sent January 30
Trump’s often-misspelled tweets and unrefined prose at press conferences has been noticed by Chinese citizens. Could Trump pass China’s College English Test? A Xinhua News analysis article is titled, “With Trump’s English ability, what level could he test in China?” (Passing CET level 4 is a requirement for most undergraduate students to earn a degree.)
Reporter Chen Shan pointed to the simple nature of many of the words Trump uses in his public statements.
His tweet defending his immigration ban included two uses of the word “bad,” one of which was used as a noun and bracketed in quote marks.
If the ban were announced with a one week notice, the “bad” would rush into our country during that week. A lot of bad “dudes” out there! – @RealDonaldTrump
I have instructed Homeland Security to check people coming into our country VERY CAREFULLY. The courts are making the job very difficult! – @RealDonaldTrump
Chen noted, “The toughest word in the whole expression is ‘instructed,’ which is on the level of CET4 (also called College English Test 4).”
Next Chen looked at some of the Super Bowl tweets Trump sent out.
Chen wrote: “One can read the content without sweating.” She compared his tweets to one of Obama, which used words on level with TOEFL, the test that American and British universities require foreign students to pass for admission.
Chen continued on page 3:
Among Americans, there really is a range of English abilities, some people at a high level, some low low. But for an American president, the weakness of his English is historic.
The chart comes from Carnegie Mellon University’s Language Technologies Institute (source).
Later Chen also brought to light Trump’s “unpresidented” misspelling in a tweet about China capturing a U.S. Naval drone. Chen or her editors even translated “unpresidented” into Chinese as “非总统的” (fei zongtong de).
“So we believe that the TOEFL and GRE vocabulary may really not be suitable for Mr. President.”
Chen noted Mr. President’s habit of repeating words over and over again and using very simple sentences. “Look at Paris! Look at what happened in Paris.” Even Americans who can’t read Chinese can see how simple it looks when translated into Chinese: “看看巴黎！看看巴黎！看看巴黎！看看上周的加利福尼亚！”
In short, according to Chen, there are three things Mr. President does: 1. Deliberately repeat, 2. Use command tone (“Look”), 3. Change usage.
Mitchell Blatt is a travel writer, editor, and columnist based in China. He is an author of two guidebooks, Panda Guides Hong Kong and Panda Guides China. He has been published in Roads & Kingdoms, Vagabond Journey, The Hill.com, The Federalist, City Weekend, and The World of Chinese, among other outlets. See examples of his published articles.